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This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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Lessons Learned from Backsliding Israel

In Jeremiah 3, Jehovah God spoke to the prophet, in the days of Josiah the king, describing the northern kingdom of Israel as “backsliding Israel” because of her idolatry (vs. 6). God called Israel back, but “she did not return” (vs. 7). It is because of this rebelliousness that the ten northern tribes were taken into captivity, and lost their identity.

Now, Judah was in danger of the same end. Consider first that Judah had learned from the idolatry of Israel, “And her treacherous sister Judah saw it.” Ungodly activity of any type can have a corrupting influence upon those who witness it. As Paul told the Corinthians, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7). This is an important principle to remember as we do our deeds before men, “Whoever causes on of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).

The text uses the picture of an adulterous wife to describe the backsliding. “Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also” (vs. 8). Despite the fact that God had rejected Israel, Judah did not humble herself in faithful obedience. Though Josiah had through his strong rule made the people obey God, Jeremiah revealed, “‘Judah has not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense,’ says the Lord” (10).

The pattern was repeated throughout the history of both Israel and Judah. Again and again they were guilty of backsliding. Periods of repentance were never long lived, and ultimately their rebellion against God led both of the nations into judgment and captivity. If at any time either would have broken the pattern, they would have received God’s favor and forgiveness. “Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say: ‘Return, backsliding Israel,’ says the Lord; ‘I will not cause My anger to fall on you. For I am merciful,’ says the Lord; ‘I will not remain angry forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, That you have transgressed against the Lord your God, And have scattered your charms To alien deities under every green tree, and you have not obeyed My voice,’ says the Lord” (vs. 12-13).

The term backslide means what it seems to mean. It refers to someone who makes headway of some type, then goes back. For Israel, after a time of obedience to God, she returned to her idolatrous ways. In the New Testament, though the term itself is not found in the King James Version, the principle certainly is. For example, the Hebrew writer calls on the Hebrew Christians to learn from “the former days” (10:32), and to endure that they might receive the promise of God. He wrote, “But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (39). These words indicate both that it is possible to “draw back”, and that in doing so we reap destruction. Thus the need for endurance.

Paul wrote similarly in 1 Timothy 4:1, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” It is rather absurd to claim it is impossible for a child of God to backslide and lose their soul. There are too many exhortations to steadfastness, and warnings of perdition to take seriously such a position.

Instead, we should acknowledge the danger of backsliding, and exhort one another to steadfastness. The importance of depending upon one another for edification can not be overemphasized. It is for this purpose that we come together for worship. “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Each of us needs to see backsliding as God sees it. As Jehovah revealed in Jeremiah 3, backsliding is adultery against God! But, God is merciful and forgiving. Remember His words, “‘Return, O backsliding children,’ says the Lord; ‘for I am married to you. I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. And I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding” (vs. 14-15).

We can avoid backsliding through the wise use of our time, words and opportunities. Again, “we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:39).